While many Americans worry about terrorists attacking transportation systems or national landmarks, experts say the more likely target is at their fingertips.
With more and more people, businesses, and government agencies conducting their business online, cyberspace has become especially tantalizing, and protecting it, increasingly urgent.
Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council which represents the interests of several hundred companies, puts it bluntly.
“The next major threat to our country probably won’t come by land, sea or air. It’s going to come from cyberspace, and we better be ready for it,” he said.
“It” includes attacks by so-called “cyber militias,” widely believed to be supported by governments in China and Russia, to the random bad actor intent on shutting down critical , like power plants, electric grids, and bank ATM’s.
To fend off such attacks, the federal government is looking for more help. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is making her pitch to university students across the country. She recently spoke at MIT and UC Berkeley, hoping to lure those who can help protect public and private sectors.
Many believe the government’s recruiting effort comes in the midst of a national emergency. “We’re already under attack in the cyber world,” says retired Major Gen. Dale Meyerrose, a cyber expert with the Harris Group. “I’ve seen several studies that say American businesses lose a trillion dollars a year through .”
The challenge is finding the right talent, in the right numbers, as quickly as possible.
“The CIA says there’s only about 1,000 people operating in our country right now who truly have the technical capacity to serve in the field and protect our critical infrastructure where there’s actually need for probably 30,000 of these people,” says the Bay Area Council’s Wunderman.
According to a recent Bay Area Council poll, more than 70 percent of Americans say cybersecurity is a national security issue, and two-thirds are looking to Washington to do more to protect networks and Internet users.
This week, the White House released it’s cybersecurity plan, and Congress has been debating several bills for years. It’s complex, and the debate isn’t likely to end soon. But supporters hope that eventually, there will be clear, standardized protocols in the event of an attack, and better strategies to reduce cyber threats.
As the Department of Homeland Security seeks to broaden its authority over cybersecurity, it’s set aside $24-million to train scientists, engineers and analysts, and create a diverse workforce of high tech and policy professions to help protect the nation’s digital border.